‘Places that defy expectation’: Herring return in waves and find new places to spawn off Ahousaht


The waters around Tofino were a sparkling, almost magical turquoise blue on Sunday as Ahousaht fishermen set out towards the Pacific herring spawn.

“It’s fun, it’s unique, you never know where it’s going to be, you have to scramble,” said Tyson Atleo, a hereditary Chief-in-line of the Ahousaht First Nation.

To feed their community, Ahousaht fishermen set up and then pulled up trees covered in herring roe, sharing with elders who had enjoyed the traditional food for generations.

The tradition goes back thousands of years on the west coast.

What’s different this year is the surprisingly strong returns of herring and new places the fish are spawning in Ahousaht territory. This comes after Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the commercial herring fishery on the west coast for a fourth consecutive year due to a previously declining herring population.

“So this year we’re seeing great numbers…and definitely in some unique places. Some places that defy expectation and assumption, so it’s been exciting to see,” Atleo told CHEK News.

In order to harvest the traditional food, called kwakmis, Hemlock bows are weighed down in the water where the small silver fish spawn to encourage the herring to lay their eggs among them.

“What it looks like is an upside-down Christmas tree at the end of the day, so you get this beautiful white Kwakmis or roe that they spawn onto the trees, and then we can harvest those trees for eating raw or for cooking,” said Atleo.

Then the delicacy is delivered to community members from Ahousaht to more distant homes in Port Alberni, Nanaimo and Victoria.

“To provide people living away from home with access to wild foods like this reassures them that they are a part of our community, that they belong to Ahousaht, that they matter, and that they can get a taste of home. They can feel connected to who they are,” said Atleo.

An ocean that has provided food to the Ahousaht people for thousands of years, it provides for another spring, and the kwakmis it yields connects people to their home waters wherever they are.

READ ALSO: Pacific herring stocks ‘increasingly’ rebounding on West Vancouver Island: Biologists

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